It is tempting to generalize, to apply universal and contemporary notions and ideals to works of a different time period. Unless you can provide in-text evidence of a notion you want to apply to a work, stay within the meanings and implications of the immediate text. In other words, stay within its boundaries.
For example, contemporary notions don’t apply to characters of the Elizabethan period. People of this historical period dealt with different issues within different contexts. The same class hierarchy of this period is not the same class hierarchy of the 21st century.
Of each period, examine it historically by researching such characters as the kings of a period, their relationships, and their enemies. Begin with the objective to find out the values, beliefs, and moral behavior of people during the time; the class situation; the race situation; and the economic situation of the day.
Although you are stepping a bit away from the immediate text before you, there is nothing wrong with researching the time period in which the author writes. The context of any work the author writes within is always, at least, a range from the author’s beginnings to his or her death. You may examine at least fifty years prior to the author’s work because you have to take into consideration the author’s parents, but you must never examine what the author thinks after his death, because the author can’t think and be dead at the same time.
You will find out much about the ideas and values and the system of a period within the work itself if you read the text closely, slowly, and patiently. What you read represents the ideas of the author, the work, and the time period of the author’s day.
Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.